The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at
s166a04 Lockleys Seventh Sunday of Easter 23/5/04
"her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone" Acts 16.19
When I hear Jesus say things like: "the world does not know you" coupled with the story of the arrest, flogging and jailing of Paul and Silas, it is very easy to slip into victim mode - where anyone who doesn't immediately agree with what I think or propose is obviously going to hell - sooner or later!
The interesting thing is that the slave girl with the spirit of divination was speaking the truth. Paul and Silas were "slaves of the Most High God" who proclaimed to all "a way of salvation". But this annoyed Paul and why this should have been so is interesting to ponder. How many clergy would like to have someone saying this about ourselves? I mean, don't you say such things about me to your neighbours? It is what is called evangelism?!
Paul was probably well aware of who this girl was and the way that she was being used by others. So he was aware that she herself needed saving from the very talent which proved so profitable to her owners. Not all disabilities are demonic and not all talents are of God. Some abilities are debilitating and some disabilities mask great talent. Even a talent which seemingly speaks the truth can be demonic.
Oddly enough, the girl, after she has been cured is never seen or heard of again. There is no account of whether she was happy with loosing her gift, being freed of the compulsion with which it held her, being free of her owners demands, or becoming "normal" - whatever that is.
The gift of her freedom was given without expectation of payment or even thanks. The girl probably had enough to do to adjust to her changed circumstances.
This leads me to question: when we proclaim our faith and do things for others, do we do these things in the hope that others will be grateful and join our community of faith? I suspect that this very expectation negates any good we attempt to do. For all the divination we do, we are no different from this girl's owners. This girl's demons masqueraded as good, as godly, things.
A while back, someone made the comment about her children being her most precious possessions. And as I am often want to do, this led me to think about the quotation: "So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions." (Luke 14.33) So often we think of possessions as those items we have bought, things with which we surround ourselves and are symbols of our "success". But this interchange with the girl with the spirit of divination needed to give away her "possession" - the spirit which possessed her. And it is our choice as much as it was hers. We too are bidden to turn our backs on that which binds us. It is only we who can do this, though it would be unwise of any of us to try to do it alone. I saw the "Australian Story" on the 26th of April, the successful international artist Greg Wilson who suffers with depression. He explained how he still had depression, but with medication and friends he could manage it. He spoke of once going to a psychiatrist who essentially told him to "snap out of it". This didn't help him at the time, yet the decision to fight the depression was his, as our decision to fight will always be ours. "Greg still lives with what he calls his "continual madness", supported by people who always told him "you can do it"." (http://www.abc.net.au/austory/)
We are not God's in the sense that we are one of God's possessions. God has no need of possessions. God wants us to get on with other people. It is that which is opposed to God which demands our allegiance and tries to constrain our freedom. Indeed that would be the most useful indicator of the action of God; it is that which increases our freedom and self determination. So God and free-will go hand in hand. It is that which is opposed to God which demands our obedience and worship. The commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God" will indeed find its fulfillment because it is only God who is worth our love - because God does not force it from us.
Last week I spoke at Henley Beach about how I had been brought up to believe that god loved people who repented, who had a similar conversion experience to my own, who lived a similar moral lifestyle to my own, and especially those who came to Church. I made the comment there that this is hardly unconditional love.
My reflections today lead me to say, not only do we not have to earn the love of God, but that even when we realize that we are loved in this way by God. We are not called to love God in return, but to love other people.
I was interested to ponder that statement of Jesus: "By this shall all people know that you are my disciples, if you have love, one for another". In my life, the way we expect people to realise that we are disciples of Jesus is by us going to Church. This is NOT what Jesus says at all! The evidence of centuries of sectarian conflicts tells us in no uncertain terms that getting people to come to church like us is no guarantee that society will be more peaceable at all. Even if we were to get the percentage of the population attending Church from say 10% to 50% - if these people did not love those who didn't as well as those who did come to church, society would be no better off. Indeed it would be worse off, if 50% of the people rather than 10% of the people acted in hate in the name of their god.
Of course there are other ways of profiting from someone else; other than using their gifts for one's own benefit or demanding and getting payola. We can use others for moral support. This can lead to the perversion of democracy itself, where others are lynched, simply because they are in the minority.
Do we look at others in terms of how we or our own ministry might benefit from the allegiance of someone else? And this makes me ponder if this is not a subtle form of slavery; though of course in our case it doesn't matter, because WE KNOW that this is the will of god.
An ability, or a seeming disability, used for others is always of God. An ability, or a seeming disability, used at the expense of others, is never of God.
God is always about freeing us and all people from everything, subtly or less than subtly, that reduces anyone's self-determination. I try to say regularly enough that people are not here just to agree with me. Even if I happen to be right (is there really any question about this? J) it works against your own up-building and maturity and as such it is opposed to the will of God.
The owners of this girl, when they saw that their hope of continuing to make money out of her, got angry with those who freed her. All "possession" is ultimately self obsession.
"You cannot take it with you" does not just refer to money or possessions; it can as easily refer to followers. Jesus has died on the Cross. He never did and nor does he now need followers. It is we who need his unconditional love and who need to share this unconditional love without expectation with others.
The good news is that God loves us without conditions and without expectation. The sole thing God asks is that we get on with those amongst whom we are placed. We neglect this message at our peril.
Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"